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Entries in Josh Duhamel (3)


Safe Haven

There was a great article on a couple years back called “How to Write a Nicholas Sparks Movie.” After a quick critique of the marketing for his movies and his approach to telling his stories, it breaks down the facts:

1) Nicholas Sparks is an author who churns out about one romance novel a year.

2) All of these books are almost immediately made into movies.

3) All of these books are the same book.

Truer words have never been spoken and because of this, Nicholas Sparks stories always come with a large degree of predictability. If a film critic going to his latest book-turned-movie adaptation were to write his or her entire review before seeing the film, roughly 90% of it would be accurate. For years, Sparks has been telling the exact same story, repackaging them with a new disease or tragedy and puking them out to the public. Such monotony means that his movies are largely dependent on the strength of the main characters and the chemistry they create onscreen.

More often than not, the leads aren’t up to the task, but Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough in this week’s Safe Haven are different. Their relationship rings true and actually works, despite the cheese they’re forced to work with. Katie (Hough) is on the run from a police officer that is hot on her trail for unknown reasons. She eventually lands in a small town in North Carolina where she meets widower Alex (Duhamel). She’s initially reluctant to pursue his advances, but his charm eventually wins her over and they begin seeing each other.

For the first time, at least as far as his movie adaptations go, Sparks switches it up. Safe Haven isn’t a straight forward romance, though it of course features all of the Sparks gooeyness we’ve come to expect. It’s actually somewhat of a romantic thriller and is amped up with a mystery. Kudos must be given to him for mixing his all-too-familiar formula up a bit, but unfortunately, the film suffers from terrible timing. In any other circumstance, such a change would be welcome, but because the leads are so good together here, the movie, ironically enough, works best as an aforementioned straight forward romance. It’s in the thriller elements that the film ultimately fails.

Just as Katie is adjusting happily to her new life, that cop tracks her down and the chase is on. What follows is a twist of Lifetime movie proportions, where the man’s role of keeper-of-the-peace turns to something more sinister. At this point, the dialogue gets hammier, the music gets more manipulative and the scenarios become more clichéd. It gets so ludicrous, it begins to feel like the film has somehow transitioned to a daytime soap opera. This feeling is only enhanced once another, final twist rears its ugly head. Although obvious in retrospect due to its none-too-subtle foreshadowing, it’s handled so clumsily and fits the context of the story so poorly that it’s difficult to predict. Frankly, Sparks is such a simplistic writer, even the most discernible viewer will refuse to give him enough credit to pull such a silly, out-of-left-field move.

It’s a conflicting feeling as a film critic who has sat through each and every Sparks movie. I’ve begged for Sparks to do something different for years and now that he finally has, the result is shoddy at best. Josh Duhamel is one of the few leading romance men who is charming and, despite his looks, can come off as vulnerable and Julianne Hough compliments him perfectly with her own beauty and vulnerability (the latter of which is brought out more by her above average performance than the writing that gives her character that trait). Dumping them in an inane thriller was the wrong way to go. What Safe Haven proves beyond a shadow of a doubt is that thrillers aren’t Nicholas Sparks’ strong suit. Then again, neither are romances. With any luck, he’ll stop writing both and we won’t have to sit through any more of these movies.

Safe Haven receives 2/5


Life as We Know It

How do you defend the indefensible? I know, thinking from the movie critic part of my brain, that Life as We Know It is a bad movie and other critics will scoff at its trite, ridiculous, formulaic story, but there’s something about it that drew me in. I’m aware of its faults—it’s a sloppy movie from top to bottom (including one very noticeable blurry shot that is downright inexcusable for a major motion picture)—but I liked it. Although I never want to see it again, it’s a major step up from the onslaught of other 2010 romantic comedy dreck.

The story begins in 2007 and Holly (Katherine Heigl) is about to head out on a blind date with Eric Messer (Josh Duhamel). Both are friends with Alison (Christina Hendricks) and Peter Novak (Hayes MacArthur) and were set up to meet each other. However, from the moment their eyes meet, they hate each other. In fact, they don’t even get to the restaurant before calling it a night. Holly then angrily tells Alison that the only way she can make it up to her is if she promises she’ll never have to see Eric again. So naturally, they cross paths again. As the montage during the opening credits shows, they run into each other many, many more times at events thrown by the Novaks, but after tragedy strikes and the Novaks pass away, Holly and Eric are forced to bond because they are left with their one year old child, together named the guardians of little Sophie (Brooke Clagett) despite not being a couple.

Life as We Know It is manipulative and the filmmakers know it. It takes an easy emotional target (killing off two beloved friends) and then ups the ante by tossing in a now orphaned child. That’s one contribution to its inevitable critical hatred. Another is the predictable story where it’s obvious that by the end (spoilers!) the two leads will fall for each other and live happily ever after, raising the kid as if it was their own.

To toss another cliché into the fire, before that final resolution, there’s even an airport chase scene where one character rushes through the terminals to stop the other from leaving. Because of these factors, I understand why people will hate it, but the movie going experience is just as much about emotion as it is the technical aspects and only the coldest of souls (and the not so easily fooled film critics) won’t have their heartstrings pulled. I pitied Holly and Eric as their lives were turned upside down, having not only lost their best friends, but also dumped with the important responsibility of raising their child, a task neither of them were prepared for.

It’s an unlikely real life scenario, but not unheard of and the two leads do a fantastic job of showing the hurt and pain they’re going through with the uncertainty and reluctance of raising a kid. Heigl, who has appeared in nothing but trash since Knocked Up (like 27 Dresses, Killers and The Ugly Truth, all equally awful), redeems herself here, even if only slightly. An early emotional breakdown shows that she isn’t all looks. She actually has some talent somewhere behind that pretty face and Duhamel, a wonderfully charming and handsome man if there ever was one, perfectly complements her.

You may see where the story is heading from the start, but it feels believable and that’s what matters. It’s even pretty funny, with some sly references to Slumdog Millionaire and Speed, and it features a supporting cast full of faces you’ll recognize, but won't be able to put a name to.

I don’t want to come off as a defender of this film because, from its messy direction to its been-there-done-that script, it’s pretty bad. But sometimes emotions trump those technical aspects. While not overwhelming, there was something in Life as We Know It that got the best of me.

Life as We Know It receives 3/5


Ramona and Beezus

Well, what a surprise. In a summer that has been bombarded by bloated action flicks and unnecessary 3D extravaganzas, I almost forgot what it was like to see a nice, G rated charmer like Ramona and Beezus. Based off the hit books by Beverly Cleary, Ramona and Beezus hits all the right notes. It pleases the children in the audience while simultaneously reminding the adults what it’s like to be one.

Meet Ramona Quimby (Joey King). She’s nine years and three months old and contrary to what her sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) will tell you, she is not a pest. She’s actually a lively young child who spices up her everyday life with some imagination. Unfortunately, she does so at school, much to the dismay of her teacher Mrs. Meacham (Sandra Oh). It’s because of this that her latest report card suffers, though her parents have bigger problems. Her father Robert (John Corbett) has just been laid off due to downsizing and can’t find another job, which forces her mother Dorothy (Bridget Moynahan) to abandon her job as housekeeper and find one that pays. However, her checks aren’t big enough to pay the bills and it begins to look like they may lose the house, but not if Ramona can do anything about it.

Ramona and Beezus is simply wonderful. Its hopes and aspirations lay only in the desire to make the audience smile and it succeeds. Joey King is simply adorable as Ramona and perfectly captures the essence of a kid. She runs and laughs and screams with her friend Howie (Jason Spevack). She loves her parents and, like all children, has that underlying fear that her parents may get a divorce. She has a pet she adores. She’s a nuisance in school, but not because she’s a rotten child. Rather it’s because she dreams of the impossible and builds whole worlds, many of which you get to see onscreen through cartoony digital effects that effectively show how her imagination works.

On top of her delightful performance and those actors I’ve mentioned above, you also have the impeccably handsome Josh Duhamel and unbelievably cute Ginnifer Goodwin who play old high school sweethearts who are now all grown up and begin to rekindle their old flame. The cast is full of charming, likable people who are kind to each other and love each other unconditionally.

It’s a sweet movie to be sure, perhaps a little too sweet. The whole film teeters on the line of mushy sentimentality and at times crosses it. You get the feeling that this family exists in a world where happiness is the only emotion because, other than a few small moments, little else comes across. There are a few too many scenes that are forced to the point where it begins to feel manipulatively upbeat, like a late water fight scene that leads up to the cheesiest moment in the movie.

Still, the Quimbys are a loving family surrounded by loving friends and it’s hard not to root for them. Despite the title, the film is just as much about the rest of the characters as it is Ramona and Beezus and that’s where the strength of the film lies. It’s easy to relate to the titular characters because we’ve all been there as kids, but it’s nice to see everybody else fleshed out as well. Despite some schlock, you’ll see the genuine chemistry between Duhamel and Goodwin and you’ll feel the part of Robert that fears he may not land a new job and won’t be able to support his family. All of that is handled with care.

Ramona and Beezus is an absurdly cheerful movie that will undoubtedly move even the manliest of men. Everybody wants to receive a similar love and acceptance that the characters get in this movie and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear or two by the end.

Ramona and Beezus receives 3.5/5